The River

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bookstores, Blogs, Traveling Wilburys

I was in Barnes and Noble during lunch yesterday, enjoying the space, the contrast to the dull gray office. I go to the coffee-shop-in-a-bookstore to work fairly regularly. Before ordering my cup a java and settling down, I wandered through the sale books. Over the PA system the music department played a cover of the Traveling Wilbury’s “Handle Me With Care.”

I’ve been fobbed off, and I’ve been fooled
I’ve been robbed and ridiculed
In day care centers and night schools
Handle me with care

Been stuck in airports, terrorized
Sent to meetings, hypnotized
Overexposed, commercialized
Hand me with care

Today I read Lohmann’s latest essay again, Crowd Machine.

The crowd is the product, the baseball game and the stadium the means of its creation. But the crowd is more than its own product of self-reflecting ecstasy. It's a machine, comprised of spending units processed to deliver money to a variety of enormous financial concerns. The crowd machine is constantly in motion, sending out its components to exchange money units for consuming units — obscenely overpriced junk food, disposable novelties, emblem-emblazoned clothing. The crowd machine is a consuming machine: it consumes the spectacle of itself consuming its own spectacle, in a mediated loop of ecstatic social control; and, in its particular incarnation as consumer of mediated corporate sporting event, it is intended to consume the effluvia of capital (junk food and junk products) that pours towards it within the stadium itself. Just as television exists to deliver the audience to the advertiser, so does the corporate sporting spectacle deliver the crowd first to itself, but also to the wonders of capitalism's notion of ideal community — a completely surveilled ecstatic spending machine.

The truth of the Wilburys song really caught me as I perused the publications. So too does the truth of Lohmann’s piece.

I read a quote the other day to the effect that everyone you meet is dealing with their own struggles. We're all overexposed, commercialized. Units caught in an impersonal machine.

Be a revolutionary. Handle with care.

Ask not for whom the pols chitter...

It's happening. Not just in the United States, but all over North America. Chittering. You go to your favorite web site, and it's there. You wake up in the morning, disturbed by...something.... Is that...chittering? It is. It's chittering.

When I wake up in the morning, I usually get up without delay. But this morning I awoke to a kind of muffled chittering sound. I thought at first it was the heat vent which often does that when it is not adjusted quite right. But when I realized the furnace wasn’t even running, I was really bewildered. And what was most amazing about the sound was I could only hear it when my head was under the blankets. It sounded like a conversation of some sort but too muffled to make out the words. But it sounded like "Two cheats due to win."

Two cheats due to win? What could it mean? The...the...the Presidential election? No!

Yet, it makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

You'll know when you hear the sound of chittering in the morning.

Artist conception of the 2008 U.S. Presidential election

UPDATE: There's more. College students awakening. A sign of hope?

This unbridled skwerlhuggery would have continued had it not been for a chance encounter that I had with the Scary Squirrel World website while checking email one day. Feelings of fear, anger and betrayal swept over me as I read the TRUTH about Tufty the Traffic Safety Squirrel and his bushy-tailed minions. I was encouraged, though, by the reports of brave Patriots fighting the nut devils on their own campuses, and I left for home determined to no longer be a pawn of Tufty and his hordes. When I got home, I explained the truth to my roommate and we made a pact to actively resist the skwerl onslaught.

UPDATE II: Once again, UFO Breakfast is recognized by Google for its yeoman work on this issue. #1 for "chittering democrat."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I love the sound of chittering in the morning

If you [Hillary] listen to them [the lefty bloggers] you could understand what their real concerns are. A good starting point is to stop buying into the hype that people who are active on the blogs want Democrats to be more leftist. Understand that their primary concern is that you learn to stand up and fight. And fighting doesn’t mean pounding your chest over how many wars you supported. It means standing up for principles you and your voters believe in.

Cenk Uygur, The Huffington Post

Gahhh! Stand up and fight with what, if not "leftist" positions? Cenk's argument, in which he advises Hillary Clinton and her newly hired web consultant, Peter Daou, boils down another "we just have to figure out how to convince the rubes of the superiority of Dem management of the armed madhouse, without scaring them by appearing genuinely liberal or leftist."

On a related note, UFO Breakfast is number two with a bullet at Google for cruise missile liberals.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


My friends pay lip service to Gandhi and his lessons, but just let their Norelco self-cleaning shaver not clean itself good enough and they freak out.

Read the whole thing. It's better in context.

via Frank's A List

Friday, June 23, 2006

Like brownies plus vanilla ice cream, R. Crumb plus music just multiplies the goodness. So I provide the above graphic and link as a public service.


From an customer review:

The songs themselves deal with things most Americans still face today - digging ginseng, being terrorized by bulldogs, talking with Jesus, loving chicken, etc. The artists are mostly obscure but you don't need to be a Georgia Potlickers completist to appreciate the music.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The fallacy of news media

Bush shows Old Europe a new face of caring and sharing

From Charles Bremner in Vienna, Times Online

PRESIDENT BUSH sought to repair his tattered reputation in Europe yesterday, talking of his “deep desire” to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and conceding that his response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks had not been understood by much of the continent.

At a summit with the EU leadership in Vienna, Mr Bush rejected as inadequate Iran’s promise to reply in August to a US-European offer for talks on its nuclear programme. “It should not take the Iranians that long to analyse what is a reasonable deal,” he said.

The US has offered to enter talks once Tehran shows that it has stopped enriching uranium, a process used to build nuclear weapons. “We will come to the table when they verifiably suspend. Period,” said Mr Bush.

He also gave warning that North Korea faced deeper isolation if it test-fired a long-range missile capable of reaching the US. “It should make people nervous when non-transparent regimes who have announced they have nuclear weapons fire missiles,” he said.

About 1,200 people demonstrated against Mr Bush’s visit, but the President adopted a conciliatory approach at odds with the more defiant tone of his first administration.

A poll published by he Pew Research Centre in the US last week suggested that a record majority of Europeans held a negative view of the US. A Harris poll this week suggested that most Europeans considered the US a bigger threat to world peace than Iran, North Korea or China.

“I think that it is absurd for people to think that we are more dangerous than Iran,” Mr Bush replied, when that figure was quoted to him at a news conference in the glittering ballroom of the former imperial Hofburg Palace. “We are a transparent democracy that debates things in the open,” he said.

Mr Bush forestalled the Europeans by raising the issue of Guantanamo Bay at the summit, saying that he understood their concerns. He spoke of his “deep desire to end the programme”, adding: “I’d like to end Guantanamo. I’d like it to be over with.”

Some of the inmates would be returned to their home countries, he said. But “there are some that need to be tried in US courts. They are cold-blooded killers. They will murder someone if out on the street.”

Wolfgang Schüssel, the Austrian Chancellor who holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said that Mr Bush had given “a clear commitment that there would be no torture, no extra-territorial positioning to detain terrorists”.

Europe’s misunderstanding of the US dated from the attacks of September 11, 2001, Mr Bush said. “For Europe, September 11 was a moment. For us it was a change in thinking . . . I do not govern by opinion polls. I do what I think is right. I think when we look back at this moment it was right to act and encourage democracy in the Middle East.” In an oblique reference to Europe’s reservations over the invasion of Iraq, he said: “Some people say that it’s OK to condemn people to tyranny. I did not believe that it was OK to condemn people to tyranny . . . Leadership requires making hard choices.”

Mr Bush beamed when the Austrian leader hailed the freedom that America had provided for it after the Second World War when it was in ruins and threatened with Soviet occupation. “I will never forget that America fed us and gave us economic support with the Marshall Plan,” said the Chancellor, who was born in 1945.

Mr Bush and the Europeans also committed themselves to attempting to save the Doha round on world trade, which is threatened with failure, largely over transatlantic differences over farm subsidies and other items.

Mr Bush will visit Budapest today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian uprising.

How many absurdities can you fit in a 652-word article?

1. A “World News” article devoid of a single fact underlying its premise that the U.S. is changing unpopular policies, such as extrajudicial prisons.

2. Instead, this news report tells us one thing: the President adopted a conciliatory _approach_.

3. Notes that Bush expressed a “deep desire” to close Guantanomo without noting the obvious: there is nothing stopping him.

4. Does not note the fact that U.S. actions belie every Bush utterance.

5. Neither does it notice that Bush’s own words belie his purported intent. To whit, how does the following statement speak to anything but Bush’s belief in his right to hold prisoners indefinitely without access to a system of justice? -- “there are some that need to be tried in US courts. They are cold-blooded killers. They will murder someone if out on the street.” [translation: some are guilty, some are innocent, although none are even charged. Someday, some will get a trial. Maybe.]

6. Promotes the idea that the U.S. government is transparent, meaning, judging from the context, that it is honest, just, and responsive to the will of the people.

7. Is unaware that “transparent” has other meanings, such as “transparent lies” and “transparent intent” as revealed by actions. (e.g. the transparent lies propagated about Cheney’s _transparent_ secret energy task force meetings.)

8. Provides extensive opportunity for Bush to scoff at European public opinion (“a record majority of Europeans held a negative view of the US. A Harris poll this week suggested that most Europeans considered the US a bigger threat to world peace than Iran, North Korea or China”) without an opportunity for an articulate proponent of this view to speak.

9. Includes completely meaningless reference to the Marshall Plan in what amounts to a world-leader-to-world-leader handjob and further exposes “news” article as PR puff piece.

10. Reports that Mr Bush had given “a clear commitment that there would be no torture” as if it meant something.

11. Allows Bush to characterize the anti-Iraq war movement as people who “say that it’s OK to condemn people to tyranny.” Again, without an opportunity for any representative of a peace and, ahem, justice organization to rebut.

12. Engages in its own form a torture by referencing another instance of Bush complaining that “Presidentin is hard.” This reference apparently in connection with the difficulty of wrestling with whether or not it is “OK to condemn people to tyranny,” even though “some people” say it is OK.

13. Tells us Bush views as inadequate “Iran’s promise to reply in August to a US-European offer for talks on its nuclear programme,” without telling us why.

14. Quotes Bush on North Korea -- “It should make people nervous when non-transparent regimes who have announced they have nuclear weapons fire missiles” -- without noting wryly that this is precisely what Bush wants for his own regime.

15. Fails to preface Bush quotes with “in another burst of mephitic nonsense, Mr. Bush said,"

Monday, June 19, 2006

This dumpsterdan guy has it nailed

One reason it's [blogoworld] been subsumed is because none of these people are all that rebellious. They quickly started looking for ways in which blogging would let them better serve already established powers, and then looked for ways to boost personal fortune. The candidates come, suck the blood of the readership, get their hopes up and then squish them.

The early adopters and big shots are cashing in. The Windsurfer and the Decider float serenely on, emitting occasional bursts of mephitic nonsense, and another managerial field has been created. The same tiny percentage of disgruntled, curmudgeonly people have a new niche in which to experience dismay and some people, who by disposition are suited for "mainstream success", will get plenty career.

Bah. MoveOn is among the worst of the lot. It sells the illusion of efficacy, which inevitably turns into service to the existing power structure. Double bah.

Where are all the people who really are done with the HR metrics, the shell game and the grim pursuit of fecklessness?

-- comment at Wirearchy

And what a vocabulary. Mephitic!? I had to look it up. It was actually in my little mass market American Heritage dictionary, to my surprise.

In answer to your question, uh, right here. I know a few people. I'm sure you know a few, but beyond that? I dunno. I think having a few beers at the most convenient comfortable dive to discuss it is the best answer. Out of that might come some inspiration, such as the SUV Diginity Concept.

I can't see anything changing, not when there's plenty of career for everyone, as a dude you may know is fond of pointing out. All the liberal pundits in the world ain't gonna change the fact that Americans by and large applaud the troops, literally too, as I saw them do for a bunch at the airport the other day. Tells you everything you need to know. See, unlike Vietnam, they attacked us. And they could get a nuclear bomb and attack us again, unless we take the fight to 'em! So we are, and will continue to and we'll applaud the defense of freedom and the fight against Islamofascist totalitarianism. Nobody really thinks we're going to switch to some other narrative, do they?

I really am done with the HR metrics, the shell game and the grim pursuit of fecklessness, it's just that, you know, bills and all. And though they do run specials, they ain't giving beer away down at my local joint yet.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

U.S. Identifies al-Zarqawi's Successor [annotated]

[Headline writer engages in subconscious acknowledgement of U.S.-created psyop nature of “Al Qaida in Iraq,” a name that is itself too-conveniently perfect for hammering home the idea that invading Iraq is about fighting Al Qaida and avenging Sept. 11.]

The Associated Press [all of us are stupider than one of us]Thursday, June 15, 2006; 9:22 AM

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The U.S. military said Thursday the man claiming to be the new al-Qaida in Iraq leader is Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian with ties to Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said al-Masri apparently is the same person that al-Qaida in Iraq [makes me laugh every time] identified in a Web posting last week as its new leader _ Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, a nom de guerre. Al-Muhajer claimed to have succeeded Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a June 7 U.S. airstrike, and vowed to avenge him in threatening Web statements in recent days. [this reflects poorly on the military communications dept., which forgot to forward the memo regarding preference for the easier to say and spell “al-Masri.” If it’s any consolation to the writer who thought up Al-Muhajer, they did keep “Abu.” In addition, this psyop, er, news report, relies on one source, a military spokesman who can obviously be counted on to give the unvarnished truth, but remember, it’s blogs that you can’t trust]

The military showed a picture of al-Masri wearing a traditional white Arab headdress [aaahhh! an Arab] at a Baghdad news conference. [Videos are still in production]

The Afghanistan-trained explosives expert is a key figure in the al-Qaida in Iraq network with responsibility for facilitating the movement of foreign fighters from Syria into Baghdad, Caldwell said. [Covers the Afghanistan training camp legend, the sinister “expertise” in those notorious IEDs, and the foreign fighter flypaper myth. A nice recovery by the writer(s)from the slip-up on the name.]

He has been a terrorist since 1982, "beginning with his involvement in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which was led by al-Zawahri," Caldwell said. [can’t you just see the resume? “Graduated Afghanistan U. with a Terrorist Mastermind degree. Minored in improvised explosives. More than 20 years experience as a terrorist.]

The spokesman added that raids in April and May in southern Baghdad recovered material confirming his high-level involvement in the facilitation of foreign fighters. [There’s been a major push to promote “raids,” with the Zarqawi raid as the lead product, and the benefit of casting future raids in a favorable light. At least the memo detailing the summer’s major campaigns filtered down to the individual contributors]

"Al-Masri's intimate knowledge of al-Qaida in Iraq [ha] and his close relationship with (al-Zarqawi's) operations [military editor’s change, AP reporter forgot to remove parenthesis] will undoubtedly help facilitate and enable them to regain some momentum if, in fact, he is the one that assumes the leadership role," Caldwell said. [still negotiating with his agent]

He said, however, that al-Masri's ability to exert leadership over al-Qaida cells remained unclear and there were other "al-Qaida senior leadership members and Sunni terrorists" who might try to take over the operations. [in a chaotic atmosphere, always wise to keep your options open]

Caldwell singled out Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Iraqi, who in the past had been identified as al-Qaida in Iraq's deputy leader in statements by the group, and Abdullah bin Rashid al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Mujahedeen Shura Council _ five allied groups in the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency. [the writers still can’t believe they went for "al-Iraqi" and "al-Baghdadi," even if only in lesser, one-off roles; that’s what happens when you continue to work during happy hour and at least one wise-guy says something like "never underestimate the stupdidity of the higher ups"]

Friday, June 09, 2006

Ghost World

“Once you’ve seen the Matrix, you can’t live in it anymore.”

-- Young revolutionary Jan in the German film The Edukators

I’m sitting in Donnie’s Country Kitchen (owned and operated by Asian-Americans) having pancakes and coffee. The décor reflects the Asian influence, square wood paneled walls, contemporary style polished wood tables and chairs.

The big-ass TV in the corner of the food emporium plays ESPN. They’re advertising a movie featuring a huge explosion. This is followed by a State Farm commercial with a tie-in to the animated movie “Cars.” Now, they’re back from the break and reporting on NASCAR while interviewing Owen Wilson, who is a star voice in the movie. They’re asking him the fluffiest of questions: what do you think driving a real NAS-car would be like? All he can think of is another movie, “Days of Thunder.” What’s the worst car you ever drove? He says a Nissan Maxima. What’s your dream car? He says he has a list, but at the top is some sort of Lambroghini SUV that hasn’t been produced yet.

This little vignette is a nice illustration of the totalizing, infantilizing nature of commercialization run amok. Here, on an infotainment program, we see how it all blends and flows into one big commercial. It’s a shell game and we’re mesmerized by the hands. Most of us. Unless you’ve unplugged, as I have. Or blog, as I occasionally do.

All I see now is the con, all I see is one big commercial, before, during, and after the “break.” As the host interviews Wilson, is it a commercial for Nascar, for “Cars,” for ESPN, or for benumbed consumerism? All of the above, of course. Does it lead, finally, to a commercial for America? American hegemony, bunker busters, mini-nukes, DU, the Pentagon, the CIA and the NSA? The unitary executive? How does one extricate oneself from the flow? Can you watch ESPN and not support American exceptionalism and imperialism?

So I have to ask, what is maturity in this culture? Just chasing after glitzy crap? Grab this sensation or that at the multiplex? Feel ashamed of a perfectly serviceable car?

Ghost World. I keep coming back to it. The movie “Ghost World” is the story of a young visual artist at loose ends upon graduating high school. She doesn’t have a lot of awareness of the world or herself. She’s a misfit, and she’s got the sense to be proud of it. But she’s also typically adolescent in the way her lack of understanding sometimes comes out as cruel and insensitive behavior. As with most movies, she journeys from a position of lesser to greater understanding. The movie features one of those ambiguous endings I’m partial to. It’s haunting. It’s the perfect last sentence. Enid, our protagonist, boards the mysterious bus that only one man actually believes will come by, and we watch it disappear over the horizon as the camera pulls back. What it says is: refusing to conform in this society will take you to some lonely places.

I was waiting for a bus...

Here’s what I do when I’m in those places, just as I did 20 some years ago: I frequent used music and book stores, I search for the real stories from the singer songwriters or the authentic spirituality of the blues and jazz musicians, I drink my beer and smoke the occasional cigarette or joint, I read authors such as Philip K. Dick or George Pelacanos. And I still watch coming of age movies.

The other day, a friend in North Carolina was visiting. She’d just gotten a DVD player. So I offered to loan her a few from my collection. I enthusiastically pressed a handful on her: Donnie Darko, Ghost World, Orwell Rolls in His Grave, and Outfoxed. The package of four DVDs was a neat summation of my state of mind: two documentaries obliterating the media-fed lies, two movies detailing the initial struggle to come to terms those lies and their purpose, which, ultimately, I view as unthinking, mass conformity.

I looked at what I’d given her and said something like, “well, two of those are about coming of age; I guess I still find the teen years interesting.”

Teens are searchers, and they look at the world with fresh eyes. Would a teenager be so blinded, or should I say binded, as in bound, as to write the following in a review of the movie “Cars”?

All of this takes place in a charmingly evoked town that once embraced the care and feeding of Automobilicus americanus but then lost out, when the interstate took the traffic around, rather than through.

To be small, independent and not tied to the mainstream (here embodied as an interstate set to plow unheeding through your middle) is to “lose out?” Is there only one way to make it?

So it’s no accident I refuse to let these passions o’ mine die. I mean, check it out: last week when Leigh and the girls vacated to Florida I hit a used CD shop to trade in some music. As I wandered from folk to blues to jazz, I noticed a bank of CDs with a sign indicating they could be had for a dollar. I had four dollars in hand, compensation for Pat Metheny’s “Beyond the Missouri Sky,” which I had listened to a couple times with little interest. I could afford four new CDs at this rate. I started browsing, thinking, “ha, there could be a gem in here.” Sure enough, I fished out two: Sam Baker’s “Mercy.” And Dan Reeder’s self-titled debut.

Small mercies

Two fantastic writers with quirky voices that can sing it so you can feel it. Simple, honest, unadorned music. I picked up Baker’s CD because I’d read a nice review on Buzzflash. I chose Reeder’s because it was on John Prine’s Oh Boy Records and because both the cover and song titles appealed.

Outta left field

There they were, masterpieces in their way, waiting for me to take them home, their price a perfect illustration of the mainstream’s estimation of their artistic merit. For me, solid gold. And a confirmation: keep searching, kid, you’ll find you’re in great company.

I gave the remaining two dollars to a young man selling peanut brittle for some youth-rescue type cause. I met him as I hoofed it across the massive strip mall parking lot heading toward “Giant Package” and its fine selection of domestic and imported beer. I went for an imported pale ale. When I got home I found that Neflix had sent over “The Edukators,” which follows the exploits of three revolutionaries who break into the estates of the super rich while they’re away and rearrange their stuff, just to shake them up. They leave notes with cryptic messages such as “Your Days of Plenty are Numbered” or “You Have Too Much Money.” They proved to be some fine drinking buddies for a lonely yet rewarding evening.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

New personal rule: If you didn't like Candyfreak, I don't think we can be friends.

An illustrative page from

[one star]No Almond Joy in this Book, June 2, 2004
Reviewer: A reader
I have read this pablum and feel I am owed the 4 hours it took to read. Mr Almond please send me a refund. Your political diatribes overshadowed some marginal writing about the candy industry. Your own paranoia about the Republican party and politics in general were as distastful as an Almond Joy candy bar. But the Almond Joy, tag line "Sometimes you feel like a nut, Sometimes you Don't" is applicable in this instance. If you want a better read on the candy industry read Emperors of Chocolate.

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[infantile, demanding cretin from the personal responsibility party thinks he's owed something for his time]

3 of 25 people found the following review helpful:

[one star] Has some shining candy moments but please, no politics, June 1, 2004
Reviewer: A reader
The parts about candy are fun but I can't believe the author became political and stupidly at that, while also condescending to candy eaters. A shame.

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[it's just sad, what it is, to become political and stupdily]


2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:

[five stars] such sweet sorrow, May 27, 2004
Reviewer: A reader
The writer Steve Almond once toiled, many years ago, at a small newspaper on the literal edge of empire -- the dusty Texas-Mexico border. That is where I first met him. And that is where I first noticed his strange obssession with candy. Drifts of Hershey's foil wrappers and yellow Milk Dud boxes invariably smothered his already none-too-tidy work station. Deadline comforts, I presumed. But with the publication of his excellent new book "Candyfreak", a deeper truth is revealed: For Steve, candy is one of our last assured paths to authentic feeling. In a culture drowning in useless information, awash in cheap entertainment, and numbed by ersatz joy and grief, what could be a more important message?
Almond writes that ". . . (candy) would allow me to reconnect to the single, untarnished pleasure of my childhood. But, of course, there are no untarnished pleasures."

He's wrong, of course. There is the untarnished pleasure of his fine book. Read it.

[couldn't agree more, my friend]


Speaking of Books

My friend Ray Sweatman, or, as I like to call him, "Billy," has published his first book. Congratters! This calls for champagne, or at least Dales Pale Ale.